Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? – Alternative Views

So far I’ve laid out what I believe to be a strong case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, having studied apologetics extensively I have come across several “alternative views” to the resurrection. I’d like to take a closer look at some of the most popular alternative views and then comment on them in light of what we’ve learned in the past several posts.

The first alternative view is the “Legend Theory.” That is, the New Testament accounts of the resurrection are the product of a legend produced over time. Well there are some basic evidentiary problems with this view. The biggest problem is that the historical documents narrating the event can be traced back to a time period when eyewitnesses were alive whom could easily refute the account. These documents trace back to the original disciples that were involved as well as the original location (Jerusalem) of the resurrection. Additionally, many Scholars agree that a legend takes a minimum of 2 generations to develop. Therefore, there simply wasn’t enough time, nor is there enough evidence to support this theory.

The second alternative view is the “Swoon Theory.” This view holds that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, he just swooned, and was awakened while in the tomb. No one really holds to this view anymore except for Muslims. Here’s the problem – to hold to the swoon theory one must believe:

First, Christ didn’t die on the cross. Then the professional Roman executioners whose lives were on the line if the punishment wasn’t carried out, didn’t ensure he was dead. (Remember they didn’t need to break his legs). Next, the spear in his side which both split open his lung and pierced his heart didn’t kill him. The incredible agony and stress leading up to his execution in addition to his weakened state due to the floggings and beatings didn’t precipitate his death. Then with no food or drink or way to ease his suffering he had to lay in a pitch black tomb. Next, in his weakened condition he would have to get up from under 92 pounds of spices and burial clothes that were bound so tight they eliminated any movement. He would then need to find and roll back the stone at the entrance of the tomb which historians agree was a wheel made of granite, 8 feet in diameter and 1 foot thick weighing about 4 tons, all by himself. He would have to do this silently because after he moved back the stone he would still need to sneak past the guards and escape so he could appear to his disciples as active and radiant.

Is this reasonable to believe? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The third alternative view is that someone stole the body. Well right off the bat there are two things to notice. First, it presupposes the tomb was indeed empty, and second it assumes that someone knew where the correct tomb was located. But there are some big problems with this theory. First, it doesn’t explain why the disciples believed they saw the risen Jesus. Second, it doesn’t explain why Paul or James (neither of which believed in Jesus while he was alive) converted to Christianity. Thirdly, even if this was true, it would only explain the empty tomb, it wouldn’t disprove the resurrection.

The fourth alternative view I’ve heard is the “Wrong Tomb Theory.” That is, Jesus’ followers went to the wrong tomb. This theory is full of problems. First, we have absolutely no ancient documents that say they went to the wrong tomb (Remember, we know from Matthew that the Jewish authorities had to bribe the guards so say the body was stolen, not that they went to the wrong tomb). Secondly, we know the tomb was owned by Joseph of Aramethea (and his servants) and therefore could have easily been pointed out the location of the correct tomb. But perhaps the most powerful evidence is that the Bible claims the correct location of the tomb was known by many (See Mark 15:47, Matthew 27:61, Luke 23:55, John 19:39). But regardless, even if the disciples did go to the wrong tomb, it still wouldn’t account for the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples.

The fifth alternative view is that of naturalism. That is, “Only science proves what is true.” However we must look at exactly what science is. Science only relates to what can be observed and tested. By definition, a historical event cannot be observed and tested and therefore all historical events must then be disqualified. So you can’t argue that science can be used to “prove” historical events. But a more important aspect of this view is that it is self-refuting. Science, in and of itself, cannot prove that only what science proves is true. In other words, you can’t put take “science” into a laboratory, observe it and record observations and discover that only what science proves is true. Therefore, the statement cancels itself out. As if that wasn’t enough, there are many things we accept that are outside of the purview of science. Things like "love" and "ideas" cannot be observed or measured but no one denies they exist.

The sixth and final alternative view is the “Hallucination Theory.” That is, the disciples must have hallucinated when they saw the risen Christ. This view may seem reasonable at first glance, but let’s look a little deeper. Hallucinations occur to individuals, they do not appear to groups. However Jesus appeared to both individuals AND groups (remember appearing to the 500 at one time). He was also seen by friend AND foe over a period of forty days. Hallucinations don’t last for 40 days. According to most Psychiatrists, hallucinations generally only appear to certain kinds of people: those that are high-strung, highly imaginative, and very nervous. Yet Christ appeared to multiple people, in a strict Jewish culture, under very different circumstances. It doesn’t seem logical for all of them to have a hallucination. But even if one does hold to the hallucination theory, it still doesn’t explain the empty tomb.

I realize there are many other alternative views out there but space doesn’t allow me to address them. I hope that you are able to see that when people give you alternative views to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, you don’t need to be nervous. Instead look deeper into what they are claiming and compare it to what you’ve learned about Christ’s resurrection. I believe you will quickly see that when one objectively looks at the evidence of Christ’s resurrection, the truth of the event shines through and all other views quickly fall away.

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